New Bay Area shelter-in-place order – rules relaxed on construction, outdoor businesses, golf

Public health officials in six Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley released new health orders Wednesday extending mandates to shelter in place through May 31, while relaxing restrictions around some outdoor businesses and recreation activities.

The orders were developed and handed down jointly by public health officers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and Berkeley, which has its own health department.

The new orders will take effect Monday, the day existing shelter-in-place mandates would have expired.

Under the new orders, previous requirements to practice social distancing and to venture out only for essential errands and exercise remain in force. But health officials have made several changes that ease prohibitions on outdoor activities put in place in recent weeks. Health officials said the region was laying the groundwork to gradually get back to a sense of normalcy while protecting against a possible surge in new cases.

All construction will be allowed to resume, provided that builders can comply with health and safety guidelines. Separate rules will be put in place, depending on the size of the project. Real estate transactions also will be able to start again, but with limitations on open houses and in-person viewings. And people are now free to move to different residences.

Outdoor businesses — like plant nurseries and gardening services, flea markets and car washes — also will be allowed to resume operations.

And some outdoor recreation activities can start again, provided that people abide by social distancing protocols, including the reopening of golf courses and skate parks. Any recreation facilities that involve shared equipment — like playgrounds — or physical contact are still off limits.

Across the region, county officials have been gradually lifting restrictions on outdoor activity prior to Wednesday’s orders.

Sonoma County officials lifted prohibitions on lower-risk outdoor recreational activity, including walking, jogging, hiking and cycling, in parks across the county, except for those along the coasts. The county’s parks remain accessible only to those who can walk or bike to them, however — parking lots are still closed.

The San Mateo County Parks Department announced plans Tuesday to reopen trails in 13 of its 23 parks beginning Monday, though visitors will have to keep at least 6 feet apart from others and hike single file on narrow trails.

Any employees authorized to return to their jobs under the new orders will have access to public and private child care programs already available to essential workers.

“The new order allows us to carefully monitor our progress while building the essential public health infrastructure — such as contact tracing and testing capacity — that will support our gradual reopening and make recovery possible,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, health officer for San Francisco, said in a statement.

Although the Bay Area has managed to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, public health officials have stressed that, despite the deep scars coronavirus has left on the economy, reopening too soon still risks causing a dangerous surge in new cases.

“A pandemic of this scale is unprecedented,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody in a statement. “We are progressing steadily as a region, but we must reduce restrictions on activity gradually or we will put the lives of many community members at risk.”

Health officials also released the most detailed criteria yet to serve as measuring sticks for the region’s progress and guide decisions about when and how to lift the stay-at-home orders.

Lifting the orders, public health officials said, will require a vast expansion of testing and greater capacity to isolate people who have contracted COVID-19 and to quarantine people with whom they’ve come in contact, among other steps.

Among indicators of progress for the region:

Numbers of cases: The total number of cases in the community and the number of hospitalizations flatten or decrease. Hospitalizations must flatten or decrease for 14 consecutive days.

Hospital capacity: For at least a week, no more than 50% of patients in staffed hospital beds not added as part of coronavirus-surge planning can be COVID-19 positive.

Changes to health orders

New Bay Area shelter-in-place orders to take effect Monday. Officials have relaxed restrictions on certain outdoor business and recreation activities that, when combined with social distancing, have been deemed low-risk.

Mandates to stay home for all but the most essential errands, like buying groceries or medicine, will extend through May 31.

All construction may resume, provided workers abide by health and safety guidelines. So can real estate transactions.

Outdoor businesses — like plant nurseries, gardening services, flea markets and car washes — will be allowed to reopen.

Some outdoor recreation activities may resume — golf courses and skate parks will be allowed to reopen. But any recreation facilities that involve shared equipment, like playgrounds, or physical contact are still off limits.

Testing: At least 200 COVID-19 viral-detection tests are conducted per 100,000 residents per day.

Investigation and contact tracing: Public officials must be able to design a system that reaches at least 90% of confirmed cases and identifies their contacts; ensures that 90% of the cases reached can safely isolate; reaches at least 90% of all contacts identified; and ensures that at least 90% of identified contacts can safely quarantine.

Personal protective equipment: All acute-care hospitals, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, and medical first responders must have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand.

Dominic Fracassa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @dominicfracassa

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